Art therapy involves the use of art to express feelings, emotions, and perceptions, and to facilitate healing through the creation, interpretation, and analysis of produced art, under the guidance of a trained and credentialed art therapist.
The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster selfawareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.” Art therapy encourages self-discovery, healing, and emotional growth. It is a two-part process, involving both the creation of art and the discovery of its meaning through a process of analysis and interpretation.
Although communication through creative media and the use of drawing, painting, and other forms of artistic self-expression have long been used in the process of psychotherapy, art therapy was only formalized as a specific therapeutic venue in the mid-1950s in the United States. Art therapy is based on the premise that visual symbols and images are the most accessible and natural form of communication to the human experience. Clients are encouraged to visualize and then create their thoughts and emotions rather than attempting to express them in spoken form. The resulting artwork is then reviewed and its meaning interpreted by the client, with the support and guidance of the art therapist. The analysis of the artwork typically enables the client to gain some level of insight into his feelings and allows him to work through these issues in a constructive manner. Art therapy is often practiced in conjunction with individual, group, or family psychotherapy, and may be used in inpatient, rehabilitation, or clinic/outpatient settings. While a therapist may provide critical guidance for these activities, an important feature of effective art therapy is that the client/artist, not the therapist, directs the interpretation of the artwork.
Historically, some mental health professionals have viewed the use of art in therapy as an effective diagnostic tool for the identification of specific types of mental illness or traumatic events. In the late nineteenth century, French psychiatrists Ambrose Tardieu and Paul-Max Simon published studies on the visual characteristics of and symbolism in the artwork of the mentally ill. They found that there were recurring themes and visual elements in the drawings of patients with specific types of mental illness.
Art therapy can be an especially useful treatment tool for young children, who often have limited language and communications skills. By drawing or visually expressing their feelings, even if they cannot identify or label the emotions, younger clients have a starting point from which to address these issues. Art therapy is also valuable for adolescents and adults who are unable or unwilling to verbalize thoughts and feelings. It is often used with clients who have speech disorders of spoken communication.
Although art therapy has traditionally centered on visual media such as sculpture, drawing, and painting, some behavioral healthcare providers/art therapists have expanded the definition to include digital media, video, music, film, dance, writing, and other artistic genres.
See also Catharsis ; Creativity ; Draw-a-person test ; Psychotherapy ; Stress .
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